In four more sleeps, I go to Varuna. There are books waiting to be sorted and packed or left behind, the final touches to be made to the colour coordinated spreadsheet I’m leaving behind to ensure the kids are where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be (they will be fine, I know, life goes on without me), and I keep swapping clothes out of the half-packed suitcase – what does seventeen degrees feel like again? What about if I need to escape to the pub? Can I write in the same jeans and t-shirt for a week without anyone noticing?
And, you see, these trivial To Do’s have a way of edging out my other anxieties; my fear that I will get there and suddenly be unable to dredge up any words, that I’ll miss the kids too much…or that I won’t.
The last time I had the fortune of spending time at the magnificent, monastic writer’s house that is Varuna, I had a very clear brief – I was going to finish my book. This time, things are different. It’s earlier in the process. Some things feel concrete, others are fragile – I feel like I might squash them if I prod too hard.
I’ve asked for advice from other writerly folk and I’ve got it:
Don’t expect as many words.
Walks. Lots of walks.
Don’t be surprised if you spend an hour just looking out the window. That’s ok. That’s part of it.
This time, I’m packing more books. I’m loading movies on to my hard drive. Things that have links to what I’m working on in tenuous ways. Things that I know will push buttons, crack me open, set me spiralling off into new territory.
I’m still fixated on the processes of other writers. I got so much out of listening to Andy and Jill Griffiths on The Garret podcast, both reassured and invigorated by their discussion of rigorous writing practice, the importance of getting many words down. I’ve just finished reading an interview with Louise Erdich in The Paris Review , which, aside from being rather exquisite, reminded me of something I heard Helen Garner mention at an event; that one must write as if no one will ever read it – Erdich says as if it’s a secret – that this is the way to get to the truthiness, the essence of it.
Another podcast, First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing, was recommended to me recently, and I’ve been loving the short eps full of insights. I’m packing some of my favourite writing books, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Charlotte Wood’s The Writer’s Room, and I’m printing off Cheryl Strayed’s Write Like a Motherfucker to stick to the wall above my desk.
I’m preparing for walking. For sleeping. Ugg boots and long cardies for getting out of bed in the middle of the night to write whenever the words come – for the delicious privilege of that, to do it without bothering anyone, and then to sleep in the next morning. I’m preparing for digging. For listening – for that moment (please, please let there be this moment) when it is as though I am transcribing something that is already there, that is all laid out before me and I just have to find my way through to it. It’s happened before, that magic – is it greedy to expect it to happen again?
I’m determined not to set a total word count goal, although I know that little ones will work for me (200 more before you can go and make a cuppa, another 500 before a walk). I’m going to try and let go of my need for logic and plausibility at every moment, and let myself luxuriate a little in the time I have. Experiment. Go a little way, or a long way, in a direction that might not be the one I expected.
Writers – how do you prepare for allocated writing time? How do you make the most of it? Love to hear your thoughts. X